Sarah* is a work first, play later kind of person, while her husband, Neil*, is a procrastinator. But when there’s a deadline, Sarah tends to shrivel under the pressure while Neil thrives and is able to swiftly get a lot of work done.

These differences aren’t necessarily good or bad, nor are they right or wrong. They’re just different.

"You comprise one-half of a unique couple," Gary Thomas writes in A Lifelong Love. "No other couple has your gifts, your weaknesses, your history, your dynamics, your children, your calling. There is great freedom in accepting our couple identity as it is."

But what if, instead of looking at your personality differences as a blessing, you still see them as a thorn in your side? What do you do when, as Dr. John Trent explains in Ready to Wed, the differences that originally attracted you to one another become the differences that start to push you apart?

"The stress from facing differences in a marriage can be unnerving and hurtful," Trent writes. "But it doesn’t have to ruin your relationship! You can move from resenting differences to valuing them – and your spouse – particularly when you choose to actively and purposefully seek to understand your own unique, God-given personality strengths and those of your [partner] as well."

Trent, aware that people don’t like to be labelled, created the LOGB Personal Strengths Survey, which describes people in terms of four different animals – lion, otter, golden retriever and beaver. In short, lions tend to take charge and be problem solvers, otters are often optimistic and motivating, golden retrievers are relational and sensitive, and beavers are more analytical and detail-oriented.

But what do you do when your personalities clash? And how do you get past the frustration?

According to Trent, there are three simple steps to help you get from being two irritated individuals to being one understanding couple.

1. Become a student of your spouse’s strengths

If you haven’t already taken a personality survey such as Trent’s, you can download it here. By taking the time apart from your spouse to find your own results and then coming together to learn more about each other, you can gain valuable insight into why your spouse tends to do things this or that way.

"It’s amazing how seeking understanding in a marriage, instead of just reacting to the personality differences, can strengthen the relationship and lessen frustration and conflict," Trent writes.

When Courtney* and Matt* took the personality survey, they were both excited to learn more about each other. "We were curious to find out which animal we were," Courtney says. "When I found out he was mostly a lion, I started to see how he likes change and adventure when we try new things or go to new restaurants. It was nice to see what I already kind of knew explained in writing."

2. Be willing to ask yourself, "Are my strengths being pushed to an extreme?"

"Wise couples will start looking at their individual strengths, asking if and how those strengths are being pushed out of balance or to an extreme," Trent explains.

A crucial way to do this is to set aside your own ego and take on a sense of humility. "Just asking the simple question, ‘Are my strengths being pushed to an extreme?’ can be an incredible help in a marriage," he suggests.

"It’s more helpful to see weaknesses than strengths," Courtney adds, "because then I can see what areas I need to work on – like how it’s easy for me to become impatient – and what parts of Matt’s personality I need to be sensitive to."

3. Set aside time to blend your differences

Once you better understand both you and your spouse, you can take a step forward together as a couple.

"In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul shared how in the body of Christ, we’re not all ‘eyes’ or ‘ears’ or ‘feet’ or ‘hands,’" Trent explains. "We each bring a unique set of gifts, strengths, and abilities to the table – like different but important parts of the body – that are needed if we’re to have a fully functioning body."

Likewise, the personality differences that exist within your marriage are there to complement one another, to teach you that it’s not about "judging each other’s differences," as Trent writes, but rather "seeing and valuing each other’s strengths."

Once you understand your personality, and the strengths and weaknesses that come with it, it’s crucial not to let that become a crutch. "Don’t use this personality thing as an excuse for bad behaviour or, for again, behaviour that’s pushed to an extreme," Trent advises in a Focus on the Family radio broadcast.

He adds that when you look at Christ, you see a combination of all these personality types. "He represents kind of that great balance," he says, before adding that "the more loving we get, I think the more we’re able to access even some of the things that aren’t our ‘natural bent,’ but it’s areas that we can work on and grow in."

For Courtney and Matt, this quick exercise served as a fun opportunity to learn more about each other and have the differences they were already vaguely aware of clearly described. Now that they know their natural personality tendencies of being too impatient as a lion or holding grudges as a golden retriever, they’re able to grow in awareness of themselves and one another.

For a PDF of Dr. John Trent’s LOGB Personal Strengths Survey, click here.

If you'd like to help your kids (ages 4+) understand their personality types, check out Dr. Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent's book The Treasure Tree.

*Names changed to protect privacy

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

© 2015 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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